I've just been to see The Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre. The evening is based on the macabre short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. But rather than being presented on stage in front of the audience, the stories unfold through the rooms of the rambling old building, and the audience walks around. The two main foci are the grand central staircase and a theatre decked out as a Victorian music hall. But the stories weave and intersect through many other rooms as well; a wine cellar, a perfume boutique, an opium den, a cloak shop and an attic bedroom, as well as the suite of rooms comprising the house of Usher. Every room contains period props and furniture that you can pick up and examine; the audience is free to roam and explore the set. You can spend an evening in the music hall, watching the entertainments and plots as they swing through, or do as I did, and follow particular actors around the building to see their story.
This is storytelling without the linearised conventions of theatre; whenever you choose to stand and watch something, you miss something else that is taking place in another room. Each member of the audience comes away with a unique experience of the evening. It was the most exciting piece of theatre I've seen in a long time. For three hours I was immersed in a different world.
Performances on Friday and Saturday night conclude with a masque party that goes on into the early hours, with dancing, cabaret and sideshows.
The initial run of the production is completely sold out, but they have just extended the run to April. Tickets are selling fast!